- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who we learned less than a year ago, had thyroid cancer, died at his home Saturday with his three children at his side. The death of the 80-year-old jurist leaves a conservative legacy and second vacancy on the Supreme Court.

A grandson of Swedish immigrants, a World War II Army veteran and a graduate of Stanford Law School, he practiced law in Phoenix before joining the U.S. Justice Department as an assistant attorney general. President Nixon appointed him as an associate justice in 1971 and President Reagan elevated him to chief justice of the United States in 1986.

As President Bush, who was sworn in by Chief Justice Rehnquist, said yesterday in his brief remarks, the chief justice was respected for his “powerful intellect” and “profound” commitment to public service. Indeed, for his strength of character, which he sufficiently rallied to complete the last term and to continue as an effective leader of the U.S. judiciary, America owes deep gratitude.

Justice Rehnquist, who sat on the court for 33 years, participated in several watershed cases, including Roe v. Wade, in which he dissented, and he presided over the impeachment trial of President Clinton in 1999 and, the following year, the presidential election.

Mr. Bush must now fill two vacancies. Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Stanford schoolmate of Chief Justice Rehnquist, announced this spring that she was retiring (and said she would stay on the bench until a replacement is seated). Mr. Bush appointed appellate Judge John Roberts to replace Justice O’Connor. Those Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin tomorrow. Mindful of such timing, Mr. Bush said, “It will serve the best interests of the nation to fill those vacancies promptly.”

The Bush presidency stands at a historical crossroads: A president has not faced simultaneous vacancies on the Supreme Court since 1971 — when Nixon moved promptly at the urging of one of his Justice Department officials to fill the vacancies left by retiring Justices Hugo Black and John Harlan. That official was William Rehnquist.

Notwithstanding other pressing presidential concerns, we urge Mr. Bush to stand vigilant on the legacy of the Rehnquist court and nominate solid conservatives.

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